Quality of Contact Stats (Soft%, Med%, and Hard%) represent the percentage of a hitter or pitcher’s batted balls that have been hit with a certain amount of authority. The percentages will sum to 100%, totaling all of a player’s batted balls hit or allowed. While a lot of statistics are based on the outcome of the play (i.e. hit or not), quality of contact stats are more like pitch velocity in that they define a process that occurred en route to an outcome.
Soft%, Med%, and Hard% are based on data from Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) which attempt to capture how well each baseball was hit. The data goes back to 2002, but the methodology for calculating the stats changed in 2010. Quality of contact doesn’t perfectly correlate with success on the field, but in general, hitting the ball hard or allowing weak contact is better than the alternative.
For the early years of quality of contact stats, the BIS video scouts had to make judgments, but since 2010, the video scouts recorded the amount of time the ball was in the air, the landing spot, and the type of batted ball (fly ball, ground ball, liner, etc) and the BIS algorithm determines if the ball was soft, medium, or hard hit.
Unfortunately, the exact algorithm (the exact cut points/methodology) are proprietary to BIS and we can’t share exactly what constitutes hard contact, but the calculation is made based on hang time, location, and general trajectory. It’s not perfectly analogous to exit velocity, but until we have more complete StatCast data, it’s a step up from simply knowing line drive versus fly ball.
Importantly, these stats are based on the type of batted ball. So there are hard line drives, medium line drives, soft line drives. A medium line drive might be hit at a higher speed than a hard hit fly ball.
Why Quality of Contact:
It’s pretty easier to imagine why we might want to know about the quality of contact on a particular batted ball. While the obvious goal of the game is to score and prevent runs, a major part of that equation is getting and preventing hits on batted balls.
There’s no guarantee that a ball hit hard will go for a hit and a ball hit softly will be turned into an out, but it is more likely that a hard hit ball will fall for a hit than a soft hit ball, in general. If you hit every ball hard, you’ll almost definitely have a better year than if you hit every ball softly. There are other factors, but hitting it hard should lead to more bases per PA.
Additionally, quality of contact isn’t just a goal, it can be an indication of true performance. Because we know that baseball is influenced by a lot of randomness, a player who appears to be struggling might actually be struggling or they might be hitting the ball hard without much to show for it. You can look to a batter (or pitcher’s) batted ball quality of contact numbers to see what’s going on.
How To Use Quality of Contact:
The key to using quality of contact stats is to use them cautiously. They provide a different look than what we’ve had for many years, but there’s measurement error built into the calculations and we don’t have a perfect understanding of how quality of contact leads to positive outcomes. We also don’t know much about how quickly you can trust the data and how well it ages.
In general, you want to use quality of contact data to get a handle on the underlying quality of the swings of the hitter. Hitting the ball hard generally means you’re a good hitter, so you can use them to infer true talent or to determine the direction of a player’s luck over the course of a season. It typically takes two or three years for batted ball luck to even out and the quality of contact numbers might help you figure out where the luck is pointing earlier than that.
We haven’t had quality of contact stats publicly for very long, so there’s work to be done regarding how quickly the numbers settle in, but here are the league average marks for each season. There isn’t one ideal quality of contact profile, so “Excellent” and “Average” are bits of misnomers, but here are some general guidelines.
Things To Remember:
● These stats are based on hang time, trajectory, and landing spot. Raw exit velocity is not considered.
● There are hard, medium, and soft hit balls of each batted ball type. A weak line drive might be hit harder than a medium ground ball.
● There is no perfect profile and players can have success with a variety of quality of contact profiles.
Links To Further Reading:
Neil Weinberg is the Site Educator at FanGraphs and can be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @NeilWeinberg44.